RICHMOND, Va. — A judge yesterday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali men accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the US government failed to make the case their actions amounted to piracy.
The dismissal of the piracy count by US District Judge Raymond A. Jackson deletes the most serious charge against the men, but leaves intact seven other charges related to the alleged April 10 attack on the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden. A piracy conviction carries a mandatory life term.
Defense attorneys argued last month that the Ashland defendants did not meet the legal definition of piracy because they did not take command of and rob the amphibious dock landing ship.
Jackson agreed in his ruling, finding that the government “failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy as defined by the law of nations.’’
The six are accused of attacking the Ashland in a skiff, though they claim they were ferrying refugees. The Ashland is 610 feet long and designed to carry hovercraft and other vehicles for amphibious assaults. The skiff was destroyed by one of the ship’s 25mm cannons. One occupant of the skiff was killed.
“We will obviously be moving forward with the prosecution of the case,’’ a Department of Justice spokesman said.